Of course! More than happy to help! I cannot speak for our program vs any other program since I have only attended Yale PA Online, but I'll share some of my own experience.
- Strengths/Weaknesses of the education overall? “Weakness” doesnt mean bad per se, but the thing you may say the student may want to cover a little more ground on. Strengths? Anything they’re particularly good at?
Strengths: The design of the curriculum just makes good sense to me. We have an organ-system based curriculum, so we learn everything related to a specific organ system together. When we're on cardiology, for example, we learn all of the anatomy, embryology, disease processes, pathophysiology, pharmacology, physical exam, diagnostic tests, etc, for the heart. It helps make it relevant in a way that you can actually remember. I know some other programs teach by subject so you get all of the anatomy early on, followed by physiology, etc and then they go back to the pathology later. I think I'd find it very difficult to learn something and then have to remember it in a way that is applicable over 6-9 months later. The next strength of the program is Problem-Based learning. I think this is one of the most exceptional features of the program and one that is fairly unique to PA Online. We get to spend 6 hours a week working through actual cases and it allows us to try and fail and succeed all in an environment where we can actually learn and grow. Not to mention, our faculty are exceptional, and getting to spend 6 hours with them learning from their (very diverse and interesting) experiences, is extremely valuable. I also find it helps us to get to know faculty and our classmates better. I really don't have any complaints about the program - the only dissatisfaction I've experienced with the program was that the social parts of our first immersion got a bit truncated due to COVID (we were literally in New Haven in the first week of March as NYC COVID was exploding) but this is not the fault of the program, rather is a feature of COVID making everything uncertain. Important to note that all of the academic parts we DID get to do.
- Ive read that they have used a production company to help produce the online lessons. What do you think of the lessons generally? Compared to, say, an educational channel on youtube; compared to, say, the fairly low-quality “camera in a classroom” setup common elsewhere?
The production is better than any online educational experience I have ever had. They are filmed in a studio, the slides are picture-in-picture (and they are provided at the beginning of every week so you can mark them up, add them to an online notetaking software, or print them). The thing I actually like the most is that there is a transcript provided that is searchable. So if a lecturer says something and I remember that I want to go back to it later, I can search up a keyword and every time the lecturer said it will be highlighted. It saves me HOURS. Also, you can listen to the lectures on any speed you want, so if someone is talking fast you can slow down, or of course, you can speed up if someone is a slower talker.
- What has the early clinical stuff been like? Is it really site dependent on how much you can learn and what you can pick up? Or is there a, um...rubric(?) for it? The early patient contact is one of the big draws for a lot of us, I think, because most of us have a lot of work experience
CEED is by far the best part of the program. There is certainly variability in what people get to do in their CEED sites, for example, I don't see any peds at my clinic and some people do. Some preceptors are more liberal while others prefer to be more hands on, but nonetheless, we have an opportunity to practice Physical Exam skills, taking histories, etc. This is a huge benefit since we are all scattered across the country. I have never heard of a program that offers as much clinical experience in the first year as Yale does. So, at my particular CEED site, I work with a Nurse Practitioner 1:1 6 hours a week. I've been there since May and currently, I go in and go through the history, do all of the physical exam, and come out and present to my preceptor. She almost always asks what I want to do, and many times, my plan is what we use. Obviously if I don't know something she will tell me and we will talk about it, but generally I have a LOT of latitude. I have done pap tests, breast exams, small derm procedures, etc, on my own (with a chaperone) so far. I don't think it is really much different than what I would be doing during clinical year, tbh.
- Can you comment on the Problem Based Learning? In my imagination this sounds awesome and very clever - can you comment on how this works out in actuality? There is some fear I think with group experiences because, frankly, we’ve probably all been in tough group situations. Though, PA applicants are a pretty distinct subset where effort isn’t usually an issue
Yes - if you are going into the PA profession, you need to not only be comfortable working in a group, but you need to enjoy it. Your colleagues at PAO will be some of the most interesting and smart people you will ever be in a group with, so there is very little worry about those nightmarish group projects we all had in undergrad where we did 99% of the work (I know you've all been there!) In terms of PBL, it is not unstructured - you will learn that there is a very specific way that you want to go about asking questions related to the patient history, there's a systematic way that you want to approach physical exam, etc. The professors will spend a lot of time teaching this approach to your group in the first semester. Now, we are a lot more experienced doing this so our group format is a bit looser. At first we were all terrified that we would miss something so we asked every single question. Now we know a lot better how to take a focused history, but that's through just doing it a lot. For each PBL, we all log into our professor's zoom room three times a week. The first day, we get our case, can ask any questions of our patients that we want (literally anything from "where does it hurt?" to "have you ever had any surgeries?" to "what are your hopes and dreams?" (not kidding on that last one - it's my favorite!). After we go through the history, we can do physical exam (our professor "drives" the software, so we ask for what we want and they share their screen or give us the results). Usually we stop there on Monday and we each take a "Learning Issue" which can be something that we didn't know in the case (there is always a large list of things we don't know), or something you're interested in. You put together your LI and on Wednesday's PBL each person presents their LI. After everyone goes, you get any additional physical exams done that you want and you may order labs and/or do other diagnostic tests. Sometimes, you'll know right away what the diagnosis is based on the labs you ordered, sometimes you have to do more testing. Everyone takes another LI on Wednesday. On Fridays, we come up with the treatment plan and everyone presents their LI from Wednesday. The great part is that after each week, you get a ready-made study guide that has 24 different aspects of the topic (because we all put our learning issues in a shared onenote). AND you get to go through the case with a professor there to help answer questions. They allow us to flail and oftentimes (especially in the beginning) it can be frustrating, but it really teaches you how to think instead of just regurgitating facts or guidelines. I have found it has really translated to my success at my CEED site.
- Are there any other educational tips you think would be relevant? Is there something you wish you had reviewed before beginning that you didnt think of beforehand? Etc.?
Not really - your time will be limited in PA school, so I'd encourage you to take care of personal things now that you can. Make sure you have an office space that is set up for you to work in and prepare your family for what is coming. I hadn't had anatomy in over 5 years and hadn't had chemistry and bio in 6 and I did just fine with the coursework. My last piece of advice is that PA school is like a gas - it will take up whatever container you provide for it. If you give it 100 hours a week, you will easily find things to study. It can be done in 40 hours a week. You can have a life. You can stay married or have a hobby, you just have to make the time! Please do reach out if you have more questions - I know it can seem like a daunting process!
Thanks for taking the time when you are able to